Common thread linking recent incidents of brutal sexual assault on girls and women: Universal lack of toilet facilities

toiletsBy Venkatesh Nayak*

The last few weeks have mutely witnessed several horrific rapes and murders of women across India. Police response is said to have ranged from apathy and inaction to complete hostility towards the complainants, sufferers of violence (‘victims’ would be a pejorative label thrust upon them) and their families. While many of us read such news items in passing, others are protesting in their own way either before the corridors of power or venting their righteous anger through the media. The keepers of the law like the proverbial ass are tardy in their response. In at least one case rather than take action against the accused and the police who were either perpetrators of such crimes or refused to take immediate action, letters are being exchanged clarifying the caste identity of the sufferers. So one must carry a caste certificate in hand to claim justice in some parts of the country.

Meanwhile the accused are said to have threatened the families of the sufferers with dire consequences once the media glare is switched off. This makes a sinister mockery of the promise of justice for all made in the Preamble of the Constitution. Justice system is repeatedly failing to protect the most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged people in society.

One common thread that seems to link some of these incidents of sexual violence is the lack of toilet facilities which resulted in several girls and women being targeted in such a brutal manner. Under the Nirmal Bharat Adbhiyan (NBA), also called Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), targets have been set for providing sanitation facilities to rural homes and schools in every village across India. A Management Information System (MIS) has been set up by the Government of India through the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to disclose publicly the progress made in implementing this flagship scheme. What does official data available online at http://tsc.gov.in say?

Badaun gang rape case (Uttar Pradesh):

The two girls in Badaun who were raped and murdered a few days ago had ventured out to relieve themselves as their house did not have a toilet facility. When I looked up the status of implementation of NBA in Katra Sadatganj village this is what the website displayed today. According to the Governemnt’s own baseline survey, 172 below the poverty line households (BPL) households did not have toilets before the implementation of NBA. By November 2011, 178 toilets are said to have been constructed for BPL families. Eighty per cent of the above poverty line (APL) households still lacked sanitation facilities. What happened for the next two years in this village is not captured on this MIS:

toilet1Bhagana village multiple rape case (Haryana):

On March 25, 2014 four young dalit women in Bhagana were said to have been abducted and raped when they ventured out to the fields to relieve themselves. When I looked up the status of implementation of NBA in Bhagana village of Hisar district this is what the website displays- All 792 households have been provided sanitation facilities as far back in March 2012.

It is obvious that women who suffered rape are speaking the truth. So the MIS data becomes a piece of cruel fiction.

toilet2Urauli attempt to rape and life-threatening assault case:

In February 2011 a 17 year old Dalit girl of Urauli village of Fatehpur district in Uttar Pradesh who went to relive herself in the fields was attacked. When she resisted she was butally hacked.

When I looked up the status of implementation of NBA in Urauli village of Fatehpur district this is what the website displays: 108 BPL families did not have had toilet facilities. when the baseline survey was conducted. In 2011 only 8 BPL families had toilet facilities constructed- less than 10% of the target had been achieved. The current status of the efforts is not known.

toilet3Tikamgarh attempt to rape case:

In February 2013, a 10 year old dalit girl was said to have been attacked and sexually assaulted went to the fields to relive herself in Madumar village of Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh.

When I looked up the status of implementation of NBA-TSC in Madumar village of Tikamgarh district this is what the website displays: 460 families did not have toilet facilities whent he baseline survey was conducted. Of these 78 were BPL families. In 2011 only 20 toilets had been constructed – all for APL families. The current status of the efforts is not known.

toilet4

Verification against other such cases of sexual assault may reveal similar results – the data is either lying or simply not updated and made available.

In reply to questions raised in the Lok Sabha, in February this year, about the status of toilet facilities in across the country, the Central Government stated that almost 60 per cent rural households across the country did not have toilet facilities according to a baseline survey conducted in 2012. Amongst states where the survey had been completed Bihar topped the list with almost 80 per cent of the rural households not having toilet facilities. The figures presented in the Lok Sabha are given in http://164.100.47.132/Annexture_New/lsq15/15/au4240.htm.

According to data available on the NBA website close to Rs. 2,000 crore had been spent in 2012-13 alone by the Central and State Governments in all states to construct toilets across the country. Rs 1,820 crore were spent by the Central and State Governments in 2011-12. While some of these funds may have helped create good toilet facilities where sincere and honest bureaucrats were in charge of implementation, the rest might have simply gone down the drain.

What is the purpose of this data presentation?

The purpose of this data presentation is not to show how much has been or not been done. The purpose is to show the futility of Management Information Systems (MIS) which are begun with good intentions but are not regularly updated by the district and the sub-district administration in many places. Merely launching an MIS for monitoring a social development programme does not bring transparency and accountability for the people who are identified as beneficiaries. While data uploading must be monitored closely for quality and quantity issues, they must be used effectively in planning and evaluation of outcomes.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which leads the National Democratic Alliance Government at the Centre promised the following in its election manifesto (amongst other things):

1) digitisation of Government records to be taken up as as top priority to make them easily accessible;

2) mandate digitization of all government work to reduce corruption and delays;

3)  focus to bring SC/ST, OBCs and other weaker sections of the society within the ambit of IT enabled development;.and

4) leverage technology for e-Governance and engage proactively with the people through social media for participative governance and effective public grievance redressal mechanism.

Last year the Department of Personnel and Training issued elaborate guidelines for improving the quality and quantity of and people’s access to information that is required to be proactively disclosed under Section 4 of the RTI Act. Templates were drawn up for displaying development spending data (physical and financial progress) from the village up to the State level in consultation with civil society representatives who had undertaken such innovative disclosure experiments on a small scale across the country. But implementation of these guidelines has not started in right earnest despite strong civil society demand for it. Activists have even filed a PIL in Jammu & Kashmir demanding better implementation of the proactive disclosure provisions of the  state’s RTI Act. Often the bureaucracy does not seem to wake up until shaken up by the courts.

In October last year the Prime Minister, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is said to have told the youth about his conviction: “Pehle shauchalay, phir devalay” (toilets first, temples later). I hope this message goes out clearly to the bureaucrats – “building toilets for every household can ensure a certain measure of safety for girls and women”. Nevertheless participative mechanisms such as social audits must be created for ensuring greater accountability in developmental spending. Of course the police must be held accountable for their actions and omissions like never before. I leave the devising of that methodology to the experts on the subject.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Delhi

 

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